Guide to Poker Bonuses
This is Bonus Source’s full guide on poker bonuses. Above we’ve chosen the best bonuses for different kinds of players, but if you want to know how we came to our conclusions (and educate yourself in general about poker promos) this is the stuff you need to know.
First, we go over the basics and then dig deeper into why certain bonuses are the most suitable for certain kinds of players.
The Basics of Poker Deals
The first thing you need to know about poker bonuses is that they are not free money, no matter how much poker rooms’ advertisements may make it look that way.
In reality, poker bonuses are money the poker room pays you back after you have first paid them in rake. Rake is the small sum taken from every pot by the poker room.
When you receive a cash bonus, it’s paid into your bonus account. You then need to clear the bonus, after which it’s paid into your real money account. When you get rakeback (cash back is another word for rakeback), you can claim your rakeback on weekly or monthly basis (depending on the poker room) to your real money account.
Cash bonuses are cleared by getting poker points. You can collect points from all real money games. After you’ve earned a certain number of points, part of the bonus is paid into your real money account.
Different Bonuses for Different Types of Players
There is no single poker bonus that would be the best for all players. Different stake sizes, type of poker game played, etc, all affect what is the best promotion to go for.
Most players don’t really consider the finer points of bonuses. They just go for the bonus that offers the largest bonus amount. This is exactly the wrong thing to do: maximum size of the bonus is in reality irrelevant for most players. We’ll show you a bit later how this seemingly silly declaration is true.
Before we go into detail about bonuses, we’ve divided players into three main groups. Each of these groups require different kinds of bonuses:
- Small stakes players (Texas Holdem or Omaha up to NL50 or PL50 – in other words a ring game where big blind is $0.50 or less)
- High stakes players (bigger stakes than above)
- Tournament players
Small Stakes Players
Small stakes players often think that bonuses are not that important, since the stakes are so low.
This is not true.
Bonuses matter MORE to small stakes players than to anybody else.
The bonuses are important, because low stakes players pay more rake relative to their stakes than high stakes players.
So why and how do small stakes players pay more rake relative to their stakes? It’s because rake systems used in online poker favor higher stakes.
Real life example:
- Playtech’s iPoker-network has the same rake cap for $0.10/$0.20 no limit cash game as it does for a $10/$20 game
- The rake cap starts to benefit players when the pot reaches $40
- Pots of $40 or over are rare in low stakes games
- Pots of $40 happen almost every hand at a $10/$20 game
- The result: Small stakes players pay a bigger portion of rake out of their winnings
Best way of combating bleeding your winnings out in rake is to get a poker bonus that is suitable for small stakes players.
As a small stakes player, you need to be on the lookout for three things:
- What percentage of the rake does the bonus pay back to you?
The higher the percentage, the better it is for you. We’ve included this percentage in the detailed analysis of each of the poker bonuses listed above.
- What kind of instalments is the bonus paid in?
This is super important: you want a bonus that is paid in instalments of $10 or less. Small stakes players don’t rack up poker points all that fast, so if the bonus is paid in big instalments, there is a real danger that you end up losing a lot of points if you don’t reach the required point total in time.
- What else do you get?
If the bonus includes other extras, like free tournament tickets, all the better for you. However note that any freeroll tickets are virtually worthless: freerolls tend to have so many players and so small pots that playing them is a waste of time.
Did you notice that the list of three important questions does not include anything about the size of the bonus?
Small stakes players accumulate poker points so slowly, that it is practically impossible to clear any large bonus before it expires. This means that as a small stakes player the theoretical maximum size of the bonus is irrelevant to you.
Final piece of advice: never, ever go for a bonus that is paid in one lump sum. Bonuses like these are almost impossible to clear as a small stakes player.
High Stakes Player
If you play high stakes (when it comes to clearing bonuses and receiving massive rakeback, high stakes is NL200 / PL200 and above), you can pick any poker bonus listed on our site and clear it.
The only question that remains is which order you want to clear them in.
Our suggestion is to simply go for the best one first. What is “best” depends on your playing style.
If you play super-tight, you benefit a bit more from a bonus where the rake isn’t attributed but is instead divided evenly to each player who put any money in the pot. These are rare nowadays, but sites like Bodog still has this kind of system in place.
If you play any other style, choose the bonus which returns you the biggest amount of rake you pay.
Percentage of rake returned tends to differ quite a bit between different poker websites even in the same network. Any other aspect of poker bonuses you can safely ignore. Freeroll tickets and stuff like that is aimed at low stakes players and are not worth your time.
That being said, a decent VIP-club would be nice, but (unlike bonuses) these are very similar among different poker rooms. So instead of wasting your time digging around for VIP-club details just go for the bonus, you’ll benefit from the VIP-club on the side.
One more tip:
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that since you are a high stakes player, you need to play at PokerStars or Full Tilt. This is NOT true. You’ll find much softer games at other poker sites – at smaller sites, there’s no 50 players waiting for a seat at that one table that has a fish in the table. Bigger sites are best used as a place to play while waiting to get a game going at a softer site.
One clear exception to this rule is PartyPoker. While Party is a massive site, their games are still quite soft and their rakeback offer makes it well worth while to play at Party at a high volume.
Tournament players benefit immensely from good bonuses. This applies both to players of scheduled and sit-n-go tournaments equally.
The reason tournament players benefit a lot from good bonuses is two-fold:
- Tournaments have super-high rake
The pricing of online tournaments has gotten better over the years, but tournaments still often have fees of up to 10% of the buy-in. Nobody would play in a ring game with a 10% rake, but tournament players are sometimes out of luck.
- Playing tournaments is a swingy business
Money earned by clearing bonuses can keep your bankroll healthy during a dry spell.
As a tournament player you should keep your eye on these things when you choose a bonus:
- What percentage of tournament fees does the bonus return to you?
The higher the percentage, the better.
- How big instalments is the bonus cleared in?
Tournament players don’t rack up poker points as fast as cash game players, so you want the bonus to be paid in as small instalments as possible. Otherwise you end up losing a lot of points when the bonus expires (note: worst possible bonus for you would be one paid in one lump sum).
- Does the poker site have enough tournaments?
This has nothing to do with bonuses but is still vitally important. Even the best poker bonus ever does not help you, if the site offering it is cash game heavy.
These things really do matter. Just as an example here is a real life example of how choosing between two bonuses from the same poker network can have a huge impact on your bankroll:
One Final Tip
We recommend a two poker room approach to playing. Whether you play cash games or tournaments, play at one big site (like PartyPoker) and at one smaller one.
Playing at PartyPoker ensures you can always get into action, as its player numbers are astronomical. While their biggest competitor PokerStars has got plenty of tables going as well, the games are a lot tougher.
PartyPoker is currently the top poker site to play at. The games are relatively soft and their rakeback offer is the best in the business. If you play high volume with four or more tables open at the time, Party’s 40% rakeback is something you absolutely want to get.
Written by Jonathan Mason on May 31, 2018, updated August 16, 2019